Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ordinarily, Hyde Carried a Rabid Dog This Way

A friend of mine recently asked me to name five books that changed the way I view the world. I'm curious what other people think, so I'll share my five here. Please share your five in the comments.

1. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: This is the first book I enjoyed trying to figure out. Some of the images from that book still haunt me, and I love it.

2. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried: I read all the fine print on the copyright page three times, trying to figure out if this was fiction or nonfiction. O'Brien's brilliance made me realize the distinction between truth and Truth. I like to say he taught me how to read.

3. Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes: The impact of this book on my life can be summarized by this question, asked of the protagonist: "Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?"

4. Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: I first read this in eighth grade, but only a flicker of it stuck with me. When I read it again last year, the Truth of the story rang deep within me. This is one of the subtlest, most terrifying horror stories ever written. And one of the Truest.

5. Stephen King's Cujo: This novel has some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. The takeaway point is this: true beauty can hide anywhere, even in the ugliest thing imaginable, like a story about a possibly demon-possessed rabid dog written by a guy too high to remember writing any of it.

So those are my five. What are yours?


Anonymous said...

I had to do a great deal of pondering to decide which books actually changed the way I look at things, not just which ones I really loved.

1. Anna Sewell's Black Beauty: This is the first "real" book I ever read, and I've read it easily a dozen times since then. This made me an animal lover, taught me to love a well-told story, and birthed in me a horror of animal abusers that predated realizing that they also turn into serial killers.

2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens: The idea of The Great Plan and The Ineffable Plan being different, and God as a poker player, has stayed with me and informed my theology for years. This might explain why I'm so messed up, and why I keep being run out of churches.

3. Francine River's Redeeming Love: I could read 100 books about God's love and forgiveness, but none of them have ever stuck with me like this one. The last third of the book is actually wrinkled, because I've sobbed through it every time I've eard it.

4. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: Another one I read for the first time in grade school, but I get more out of it every time I read it. This is another book that informed my theology, in a bizarre way.

5. C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle: Although not my favorite of the Narnia books in terms of story (I don't care for Jill and Eustace), I think I read Revelation and understand heaven through the lens of this book, and I've spent untold hours trying to figure out what Lewis was trying to say when he let the young Carlomene into heaven at the end.

Honorable mention goes to The Stand, which has since made me terrified of "the flu," and being in a confined space with people who are coughing a lot.

Yee said...

1. "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman - I don't believe these books are about religion, but about choice and freedom from tyranny. But the surrounding controversy was even more illuminating and (ironically) very in tune with the novels' message.

2. "Discipline & Punish" by Michel Foucault - Oh, how high brow! LoL. Actually, I had to read it for a sociology class. I don't pretend to understand all of it, even now. But it did two things - first, I learned that there are people out there that are so much smarter than I ever will be, which is something I knew but never really comprehended before, and second, it gave me the solid idea of going to law school.

3. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George - One of the first novels I ever read on my own and pushed me further down the hippie path of actually caring about the environment.

4. "Ruth" from the Bible - Ugh. I hate those people who say "The Bible!" when asked for their favorite book. (Who are they kidding? Some of it is downright BORING. I do not care about the measurements for my very own ark.) It was a favorite at a very young age because it was short, but it was also the first story I read where the woman was truly strong and fought for the well-being of her family and future. My first foray into feminism. :)

5. "The Robber Bride" by Margeret Atwood - Not my absolute favorite of my favorite living author, but the one that comforts me the most. I'll leave out the details, but it helped me realize that the bad things in my life were not so unique to me and that someone else understood.

I tried to keep it to books that actually influenced my life instead of my reading preferences. That was difficult. Sheesh. If I had allowed those kinds of books, the list would definitely include "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", which taught me to love books in the first place, "Wide Sargasso Sea", which was beautiful writing in a horrific plot, and "Tale of Two Cities", which taught me to love anti-heroes and hate Mary Sues. :)

Jeremy Masten said...

Thanks for commenting, y'all. It's always interesting to see what has affected other people.

Rebecca---Have you read the rest of the "Time Trilogy/Quarter/Quintet"? I've thought A Wind in the Door was really, really frustrating. It was like Meg had learned nothing from her experiences in A Wrinkle in Time. One of my goals is to read the rest of the books, but, after such a rough second book, I'm not sure I can push through all five. Curse you, J.K. Rowling---you spoiled me with your constantly better sequels!!

Yee---I find it interesting that your feminism was borne out of Ruth. Believe it or not, there was a women's group at my church growing up that had as a goal being a more Ruth-like woman. And they were decidedly un-feminist.

Personally, my favorite book in the Bible has always been Esther, with Mordecai being a kind of hero of mine. My personal favorite aspect of the story is the irony of Haman being hanged on the gallows he had built for Haman.

Yee said...

Well, Ruth is a good daughter and a truly self-sacrificing woman - she marries Boaz, not because she necessarily loves him, but to further her dead husband's line. So I can see where the old-fashioned anti-feminism gets it. But maybe it's the way my mother always framed it. For me, it was about the way she said to herself, 'This is what I need and I'm not going to wallow in my pity instead of getting it' - instead of say, Naomi, who pretty much wallows the entire time. (Of course, she's lost her husband and 2 sons - I can't *really* blame her, but she's definitely not as strong as Ruth.)

You also have to remember that my brand of feminism does not involve burning bras or hating men. It's about the fact that women should have just as much choice of what do with their lives as men - if a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom, great! If she wants to be a businesswoman and never marry or have kids or cook anything more complicated than a can of pre-made soup, equally great! I can't stand women that say that we need to take that second path to live up to our potential. They miss the point of feminism and give

Yee said...

... the rest of us a bad name.

I don't know why it cut the rest of that off. Hmm.

rebeccagriffin said...

Yee - I'm with you. So with you.

Jeremy - I've read Wrinkle, Wind, Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters...once, and I don't think I ever read An Acceptable Time. All I remember about Many Waters is that I didn't like it. But I also thought A Wind in the Door was weird; "You learned absolutely nothing the first time, so let's rehash the entire plot with different characters." Um. What? Swiftly Tilting Planet was better, I thought, and explained some things. I always pretend that the series stops there. I tried to read several of her other works, but never really "got" them. I wonder if I would understand them more if I read them now, but I don't care enough to try the experiment.